Say the words “Margaret River” and many of us will finish the phrase with “wine”. And there’s a lot of it – with some 215 wineries in the region, many of which don’t send their wines as far as the East Coast.
But there’s more to WA's vast Margaret River region than wine. There’s a thriving gourmet food growing and production industry, too. And it’s an area of great natural beauty.
The area known as Margaret River is centred on the town of the same name, three hours south of Perth by road. However, the region extends all the way from Busselton and Geographe Bay in the north to Augusta and Cape Leeuwin in the south. Those boundaries have the region surrounded by sea on three sides.
The rolling vineyards sit against spectacular ocean and forest views
In 2017 Margaret River celebrates 50 years since the first commercial vines were planted here in 1967. That was at Vasse Felix after a WA agronomist, Dr John Gladstone, identified the region as ideal for producing premium wines. How right he was.
Margaret River supplies just 3.5 per cent of Australia’s wine but contributes 20 per cent of the nation’s fine wine exports. It’s particularly renowned for its cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
While wines from Cape Mentelle, Capel Vale, Evans & Tate, Houghton, Leeuwin Estate, Vasse Felix and Voyager Estate are known around Australia and around the world, you really need to visit to get to know the wines of Arimia, Bare Rooted, Blue Poles and Dormilona.
Unearth an exciting combination of great food and wine
I must confess that on my first visit to Margaret River I didn’t visit any wineries at all. I was there for the caving opportunities the region presents. The limestone that contributes to the area’s wine credentials is also easily carved by water into caves and fantastic shapes. Indeed, one of the highlights of the region is a drive along Caves Road.
Mammoth Cave, as the name suggests, is large and also has a history that goes back long before the era of mammoths. Fossil remains of megafauna extend from Giant Echidna and Giant Wallabies to Tasmanian Tigers and a Marsupial Lion. The cave is readily accessible and even offers wheelchair access to the first chamber.
Nearby Lake Cave is even more impressive. There’s a viewing platform amongst the karri trees that looks into the sinkhole. Once inside you discover a placid pool giving perfect reflections of the delicate straws of stalactites above. There’s also the unusual “suspended table”, a block of stone that seems to float impossibly above the water.
For an unusual wildlife experience head to Hamlyn Bay off the end of Caves Road where you’ll find a pretty, sheltered white sand beach. It’s home to some stingrays that aren’t shy and are quite willing to swim around you while you snorkel.
And beautiful Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park with its beaches, caves and forest of jarrah and karri is the most visited in Western Australia.
The Cape to Cape walk – from the lighthouse of Cape Naturliste to the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin is an immersive experience through the nature of the region. The 135 km track, largely following the coast, takes about five to seven days to complete but can also be divided into day walks. A good starting point is here.
The Cape to Cape Track offers a stunning showcase of the region's natural beauty
To plan your time in Margaret River your first stop should be one of the several Margaret Regional Visitor centres in Busselton, Dunsborough, Margaret River and Augusta – see here.
Even if you have no interest in wine at all you won’t be at a loss for things to do. There are galleries and designers, attractions and activities, pubs, craft breweries and distilleries, spas and shops and a very wide range of restaurants, some within and others independent of wineries. There’s well over 100km of coastline and some 50 surf beaches so it’s a rewarding beach holiday destination, too.
if you wish for someone else to take care of your Margaret River wine touring see Ultimate Winery Experiences. The company started in WA but has now expanded to vineyard areas around Australia.
The winner of many tourism awards, it offers a range of Margaret River tours from one to three days touring to a five-day tour by private aircraft.
Stay in luxury: the Injidup Spa Retreat is a beautiful escape when staying in the Margaret River region
Of course, there’s a wide range of accommodation across the whole Margaret River region. Cape Lodge, a member of Luxury Lodges of Australia, is at the top of end of your options – it’s a beautiful boutique hotel within 16 hectares of gardens and has its own vineyard.
Margaret River is an essential detour for those visiting Perth who have an interest in food and wine. One of the joys of the region is discovering so many wonderful wines and gourmet food products that WA has largely kept to itself.
Have you travelled through the Margaret River region? Which wineries were your favourite?
Image credits: (feature) Leeuwin Estate; (in-text) Walk Into Luxury / Mark Boskell; Shutterstock Inc. / Random Lights Photography.